Aug 10, 2023

When one door closes

Posted by Jessica Oakes on August 30, 2023 in Culture, Top Stories.

The Ferris faculty-owned Fatty C’s Dog House will be moving locations in September as Raven Brewing and BBQ permanently closes.

The location at 121 N. Michigan Ave. has been home to Raven Brewing and BBQ for a decade. Owner Connie Freiberg, a restaurateur previously managing four locations in Big Rapids and Manistee, decided to close the Raven in order to focus on her “baby” and “passion,” the Blue Cow.

“The most valuable commodity that we have is our time,” Freiberg said. “I had to ask myself at this stage in my career, what brings me joy? Where does my culinary passion lie? And what do I really want to be doing?”

After some professional soul-searching, Freiberg offered the space to Fatty C’s due to the noticeable passion that the owners have for their food and their work.

“[Fatty C’s has] really great food, but there’s such a crappy location,” Freiberg said. “I’m sure it’s hard for them to flourish. And I thought, I don’t want to do barbecue anymore. So, I’m going to ask them if they want to move their operation into my space and put a different vibe and a different energy in there.”

Dr. Kasey Thompson is a professor in the college of business and co-owner of Fatty C’s hot dog restaurant with her husband, Bernard Agee. In a rare instance of community engagement and female-led business, Thompson “ran” to the offer to move her restaurant from a small parking lot to the center of Historic Downtown Big Rapids.

Fatty C’s was originally located at 107 N. Warren Ave., tucked behind Jets Pizza and Dirty Dog pet grooming. The storefront had limited space and seating that Thompson felt did not aid in the welcoming environment they worked towards.

“If the lobby would fill up, people would kind of feel the pressure to leave, or move a little bit quicker,” Thompson said. “Now that we have the space, it’s much more of a communal area. People can sit and they can relax and talk… so people will be able to enjoy the energy and the spirit of Fatty C’s longer.”

Both Freiberg and Thompson valued the personal side of the restaurant business–even more than the profits at times.

“You don’t see this story very often,” Thompson said. “It’s because, and this is a very general statement, in a capitalist society, you’re looking to create the greatest level of profit possible. That’s business, right? So a lot of times the decisions that you make are based on that versus some of that human connection… Since the very first day we opened up our doors, we wanted to be integrated in the community. [Fatty C’s is] a place people could rely on, not just for great food, but just to chill and have a rest, sit and to come laugh. We’ve always represented that. So in order for us to stay that way, you have to do it in lieu of making money. And I’m just being very transparent.”

For every college student reading, Freiberg recommends the book “Die with Zero.” Written by energy trader Bill Perkins, it details the theory that one should not live their life with the goal to die with riches at the risk of wasting their most valuable assets: time and happiness.

“[The Raven] is not going out of business. The restaurant is extremely successful. I made a decision in my life, this is not how I’ll choose to spend my time anymore,” Freiberg said.

The closure of the Raven will be carried out without any employee layoffs. All service staff who would like to continue working under Freiberg is invited to work at the Blue Cow right next door.

“There’ll be some training, there will be a learning curve when you transition people from serving fast, casual barbecue to upping their game to fine dining,” Freiberg said. “But the ones that have decided to stay on with us are really passionate about making that transition. And I’m passionate about helping them make that transition and training them to be excellent servers and excellent kitchen staff.”

Recent Ferris alumna Celeste Littrup was a second-generation Raven employee and one of the “greatest” that Freiberg ever worked with.

“The Raven had a super laid back environment compared to the other jobs that I’ve ever worked. It was part of the reason I did fall in love with bartending,” Littrup said.

Littrup said that even in a laid back environment, Freiberg has high standards for all of her restaurants. If Freiberg was working in the kitchen, Littrup knew the food would come out “perfect.” After working at the Raven and Blue Cow throughout her four years studying marketing at Ferris, Littrup is using the skills she learned behind the bar and in the classroom. She is now a private bartender and recently opened Happier Hour LLC.

Freiberg is excited to work in the kitchen at Blue Cow full-time with a full staff for the first time since the pandemic. She even decided to give back to the community that gave her so much by sharing her barbecue sauce recipe: